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Valley Perspective

Girl Power

March 11, 2001

Three cheers for the West Valley Girls Softball League, which, three years after filing a federal lawsuit against the city, opened its season last weekend on its own ball field.

The opening-day crowd of lawyers and politicians at the Hughes Middle School campus in Woodland Hills only underscored what an undertaking finding a decent playing field turned out to be.

For years the girls league shuttled from park to park, twisting ankles on fields pocked with holes while boys teams played on permanent, well-tended home fields. Frustrated by the city's indifference to its complaints, the girls league sued. The American Civil Liberties Union expanded the suit to cover girls citywide.

The suit highlighted two overriding problems--a Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department that catered more to boys than to girls and a city that didn't have enough playing fields, period, for either gender.

Showed studies that boys outnumbered girls in city sports programs 4 to 1, the city agreed in a settlement reached in 1999 to hold sports clinics for girls, assign more women to administer sports programs and recruit female athletes as mentors. In the "Raise the Bar" program's first year, the number of girls involved in city-run sports programs increased by almost 40%.

The lawsuit also forced Recreation and Parks to become more creative at finding safe, clean fields. The lack of decent playing fields in this built-out city is a real problem--and not just for girls in the west San Fernando Valley. Shortages for girls and boys teams are even more acute in other parts of the city. City officials began looking at surplus Department of Water & Power land for playing fields and struck up talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District to keep campuses open for organized sports leagues. They also found they could schedule playing fields already in use more efficiently.

So by last year, the little league from the West Valley had scored two big victories: more programs for girls and more fields for everyone. But it still didn't have a permanent home, a field that parent volunteers could upgrade and tend just as they do the boys' fields.

That was resolved--finally--with at least a tentative agreement reached between the city, the league and the school district. Parents have spent months readying the fields at Hughes Middle School, building dugouts and installing fences.

Now the girls can literally hit one out of the park. Of course, in other ways they already have.

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